A new study released this month by the CDC examining acute chemical incidents in nine states between 1999-2008 has found that chemical manufacturing is the leading industry in which dangerous chemical incidents occur.
According to the new study, the industries with the most chemical incidents were:
- Chemical Manufacturing, with 23% of total incidents
- Truck Transportation, with 20%
- Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing, with 10%
- Utility Companies, with 6%
- Nondurable Good Merchant Wholesalers, with 2%
The study notes that while chemical manufacturing was the leader, total incidents trended down in that industry over the course of the survey. In three out of the ten years surveyed, the truck transportation industry had a greater number of incidents than the chemical manufacturing industry.
Approximately one quarter of all chemical incidents resulted in a public health action like evacuation, decontamination, or a road closure. An important detail, this means that chemical hazards are not just an industry issue, or something for employees and employers to be concerned about. Around 25% of the time, they become a public health issue, potentially impacting everyone.
The CDC study found that a total of 57,975 chemical incidents occurred in the period surveyed in nine states (Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin). Two of the states surveyed — New York and Texas — accounted for 60% of the chemical incidents.
The most commonly released substance during an incident was Ammonia. Other frequently released chemicals included alkaline hydroxides, sulfuric acid, mercury, hydrochloric acid, carbon monoxide, ethylene glycol, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide. In its report, the CDC noted: “This is not an unexpected finding because these are extremely hazardous, fairly ubiquitous chemicals.”
Seventy-two percent of the chemical incidents occurred in facilities, and 28% during transportation.
According to the CDC, the finding of this study will be used to more effectively target prevention and awareness efforts. The CDC writes:
“The findings in this collection of surveillance summaries underscore the need for educational institutions and the general public to receive more focused outreach. In addition, the select few chemicals and industries that result in numerous incidents can be the focus of prevention activities. The data in these surveillance summaries show that equipment maintenance, as well as training to prevent human error, could alleviate many of the incidents. . . [the] data can be used by public and environmental health and safety practitioners, worker representatives, emergency planners, preparedness coordinators, industries, emergency responders, and others to prepare for and prevent chemical incidents and injuries.”
The two most common causes of chemical incidents were equipment failure and human error. This finding makes clear that employers need to continue to focus on whether or not their training, processes, and PPE are truly getting the job done and creating an atmosphere where safety is paramount.